bored girl in a classroom

Rethinking Reports

By Melissa Thibault and David Walbert

Important Message about LEARN NC

LEARN NC is evaluating its role in the current online education environment as it relates directly to the mission of UNC-Chapel Hill School of Education (UNC-CH SOE). We plan to look at our ability to facilitate the transmission of the best research coming out of UNC-CH SOE and other campus partners to support classroom teachers across North Carolina. We will begin by evaluating our existing faculty and student involvement with various NC public schools to determine what might be useful to share with you.

Don’t worry! The lesson plans, articles, and textbooks you use and love aren’t going away. They are simply being moved into the new LEARN NC Digital Archive. While we are moving away from a focus on publishing, we know it’s important that educators have access to these kinds of resources. These resources will be preserved on our website for the foreseeable future. That said, we’re directing our resources into our newest efforts, so we won’t be adding to the archive or updating its contents. This means that as the North Carolina Standard Course of Study changes in the future, we won’t be re-aligning resources. Our full-text and tag searches should make it possible for you to find exactly what you need, regardless of standards alignment.

Year after year, students are assigned an animal report, a factual report on a species of their choice. My son chose the Harpy Eagle for his third-grade animal report — and proceeded to re-submit that report with only slight modifications for years thereafter! (One of these days, someone who taught my son will be in a conference presentation — or reading this article — and I can hear them now. “Oh, that explains everything!”)

Should I have intervened and insisted that my son do yet another research paper outlining the habitat, diet, and life cycle of a different, randomly chosen animal? Perhaps, but I didn’t. I chose to focus on the curriculum my son had to learn rather than the random assignment. Would re-doing the same factual research process accomplish the goals of the science curriculum? No. The science objectives in the upper grades were more complex and involved ecological systems; a report on a single animal wasn’t going to teach them.

Some of the concepts intertwined with the study of animals are life cycles, adaptations, interdependence, habitats, and food webs. Of these topics, only life cycles and adaptations are specific to one animal. Broader topics related to an entire ecosystem cannot be addressed in a report focused upon one animal. So the animal report should be assigned to help students understand the life cycles of various animals and/or how an animal’s successful adaptation to an environment is necessary for survival.

The articles in this series will get you thinking creatively about student research and teaching these topics.